Friday, February 21, 2014

Should You Be Using A Two Beat Kick?

Traditional swim coaching taught everyone to swim with a flutter kick:


The legs are kept nearly straight with only a subtle bending of the knee and pointed toes behind the swimmer. Technically this is called a '6 Beat Kick' because for a full arm cycle you kick six times. This isn't something you have to think about too much, if you focus on a light flutter kick then the timing will naturally fall into place.

Great swimmers such as Natalie Coughlin, Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps use this style to great effect.

You might have heard of a much slower style of kicking called a two beat kick:


For a full arm cycle, the swimmer kicks twice. When performed well, it's like a switch-kick moving between the two positions.

The advantage of this kicking style is that it uses less energy and so can be more energy efficient over longer distances. Elite swimmers such as Laure Manadou, David Davies and Shelley Taylor Smith won many gold medals using this technique. It's used in pool events but is especially common in elite open water swimming and triathlon.

Which Style Is Best?

So which should you use when you swim? To make the two beat kick style work effectively you need all these elements in place in your stroke:

- You need a good catch technique pressing the water backwards effectively at all times.

- You need an absence of a pause and glide in your arm stroke timing.

- You need good rhythm to the stroke moving continuously from one stroke to the next.

- You need a developed kicking technique, kicking from the hip with very little knee bend.

- You need a reasonable level of natural buoyancy.

Having all those elements in place in your stroke is going to mean you are already a pretty decent swimmer and if you swim in a squad you will swim in the faster lanes.

If you don't have all of those elements in place then a two beat kick won't work well for you at all, you're much better off with a light 6-beat flutter kick while you develop your stroke technique. This doesn't have to be very energy consuming if you kick with a small motion and light effort.

In the long run as you develop your stroke technique - and if it fits your natural style - you can start to work on a two beat kicking technique.

Kicking Style By Swim Type

If you're a classic leg-sinker like an Arnie or a Bambino then although a six beat kick takes a little more energy in itself, your body will be lifted higher and this will reduce drag and so reduce your effort level overall. For you a light six beat kick is the most efficient style as it helps lift your legs higher in the water.

Many swimmers try and combine a two beat kick with a pause-and-glide in the stroke (the classic Overglider) as they are looking to use as little energy as possible when they swim. Unfortunately this causes them to stall between strokes and sink down low in the water - this is a very inefficient way of swimming.

A common stroke artefact that develops with Overgliders using a two beat kick is the Overglider Kickstart (see here). The swimmer has to use a big knee bend to literally kick-start the stalled stroke, creating a huge amount of drag in the process:

Notice how this swimmer's body position is much lower
than the more efficient swimmers above.

Overgliders are best off using a six beat kick while they work on improving their catch and their rhythm and timing. If you migrate towards the Swingers style then a two beat kick could serve you well in the long run but most Overgliders have ambitions to be Smooths for which they should stay with a six beat kick.

The Kicktastic is a swimmer who likes using a powerful 6-beat kick. For yourself developing your swimming is about taming the power of the kick whilst developing your catch and pull. We'd recommend keeping the 6 beat style but moderate the effort levels to improve your efficiency.

The elite swimmers who use a two beat kick are those with a shorter stroke but a faster turnover - Swingers. The continuous nature of the Swinger style, moving continuously from one stroke to the next, means they don't need a flutter kick to keep their momentum going. The two beat kick simply helps drive their body rotation which in turn drives the arm stroke.

Not all Swingers use a two beat kick but it naturally complements their style and allows them to turn their arms over quickly without having to kick extremely rapidly to keep up with the pace of the arms.

That leaves the Smooths - the swimmers who use that long smooth stroke style to devastating effect. The six beat flutter kick suits their style and falls in naturally with the longer stroke timing. Sometimes when cruising at steady pace (for them!) the kick will drop in and out but when at full racing speed, the kick becomes continuous and powerful to lift them high at the rear.

Conclusion

Swim Smooth's coaching philosophy is to only think about developing a two beat kick if you are quite an advanced swimmer starting to develop a refined Swinger style of stroke. If you are still working on the basics of your stroke technique such as breathing, alignment, body position and catch setup then you are going to be much better served using a light 6-beat kick. And if you tend towards the Smooth type, then 6-beat is going to be the best style for you in the long term too.

Swim Smooth!

21 comments:

Richard Aukland said...

Hi Paul, your article timing is perfect (unlike my kicks!).
I have been trying to move from a 6-beat where my left leg kick is timed with the reach of my left arm to the opposite, i.e. left leg drives rotation when right arm enters. But I cant break the habit!

I have successfully managed the mental switch on a 2-beat, but I cannot migrate this to a 6-beat, and a 2-beat doesnt suit me. Is it worth pursuing or should i stick with the wrong timing on my current 6 beat?

I can do 400m in about 7:20 (at a push) and am currently working my way through your catch masterclass.
Any thoughts appreciated highly!
Richard

Anonymous said...

Great blog post Paul, thanks. Over the past four months of trying to move from a 6 to 2 beat kick, three things have been helpful to me: repeatedly watching online video of those you have mentioned to get the rhythm down, vertical and horizontal 2 beat kicking (w/ a snorkel) to get the rotation down, buoyancy shorts/pants and buoyant fins to get the posture down (or rather up). Again, this was useful just to learn the new rhythm, rotation, and posture, as a scaffold before the building is a little more complete. For what it's worth. Again, thanks for the blog post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a good post. I'm definitely not an elite swimmer, but after a few years of working towards Mr. Smooth, I realized I'm really a swinger. Now I've been working to be a smoother swinger and will try this 2-beat because sometimes the 6-beat gets a little too busy for me. Great information to have! Micaela

Philippe V. said...

Thank you for the great blog post, very informative.

It is mentioned that the swimmer has to be rather buoyant to use a two-beat kick. Do you have guidelines or tests that we could try in the pool to determine if we are buoyant enough to consider a two-beat kick.

Or perhaps this is the subject of a future blog post…

MarkkuS said...

I'm overglider with 2bk. Maybe I should try the 6bk, but how to do it?

Mats said...

Paul, thank you for another great post. I would say I share Richard Aukland's issue with timing a 6-beat kick (a 2-beat I can time just fine - but with a stroke rate in the low 60s I'm not ready for it yet.) Any ideas on how to tweak that 6b timing would thus be highly appreciated.
On a another note I will also take the opportunity to suggest yet another swim type - the Overdoer, ie overstrokers who are not natural born swingers. There is at least one... In my own fervor not to overglide and perform well in long distance OW I pushed my stroke rate to the low 70s without really having either the stroke mechanics or body position to support that. Slowing it down (a real mental hurdle) after seeing the pace/stroke rate chart in your book helped a lot and a 1 hour Ironman swim now looks to be with the realm of the possible...

Pete said...

Hi Paul, I am in the same boat as Richard A.
Moved from unbalanced flutter to balanced 2 beat to assist longer OW swims. Ok but would benefit I feel from balanced flutter due to being a mild overglider.
It took ages to crack the balanced 2 beat but cant seem to get to the balanced flutter.
Aalso co-incides with stall on progress but down to just under Hr for IM
Any help much appreciated.

Pete

Lukas said...

awesome post - just watched an underwater video of myself counting the kick...is it possible that I'm exactly in between with a 4 beat kick?!? (does that exist)

Oliver K said...

In my own (very small) experience with other swimmers I've yet only seen swimmers going for a 2-beat kick because they had problems with the legs and want them "out of the way". That is a sad thing, and a whole dimension of swimming is lost.

The RaceClub only recommends 2-beat kick for stroke rates above 80 strokes per minute.

Until three months ago I hated leg-kick exercises. But then I found out about using the snorkel for the leg-drills, and that solved the problem --- due to neck problems, after 25m with the board I was finished, but now with snorkel and just stretching out the arms in front of me (or using the Finis alignment board) it works well. And it really is fun!!

The legs start to relax. I start to develop some feeling in the feet. Endurance gets better. Propulsion too. It helps my whole body. The leg kicks have become a part of swimming training I really enjoy (while until three months ago I never did them on my own, and hated them like the pest). Last week I started to have a dedicated leg session per week (alright, first session just 20min ;-)).

And all that seems lost when people want the legs "out of the way".

Anonymous said...

When warming up and cooling down I use the 6 beat flutter, but when practicing catch and pull using my core, my kick changes sub consciously to a flutter on each pull through, with a distinct pause, is this a tell-tell sign of anything else needing attention?
Paul

jihemd said...

Great post thx, but too often IMHO, you show us female swimmers as beginner for drills, especially balance drills,
and as I experienced at the pool, females have rather natural buoyancy.

Being a light built guy, I am very intrested in how male swimmers get their balance and a high legs position in the water !

As a male bambino swim type, I think you obviously have to go further with the swim types system, and taking gender into account :
there must be female Arnies out there...

Jean Marc from France

Emily @ My Little Lasik said...

Fascinating, thanks!

Oliver K said...

I want to support Jean Marc from France.

It also seems to me that male and female swimming is rather different. The buoyancy is definitely a difference, especially for age-group swimmers (on average more body-fat and shorter legs with female swimmers).

Then shoulder-flexibility I believe is much greater (on average, with age-group swimmers) for female swimmers. While often they have a very light touch (perhaps less feel for the water).

These are my observations with others, that's what I see. Concerning my own personal experience, I came to the conclusion that videos of female swimmers (elite and others) absolutely "don't speak to me", they don't say me anything, while with male swimmers I can have even very strong moments of "recognition", of "understanding" (much more with elite swimmers).

(Just to add, from fitness etc. I'm very used to see female demonstrators. But swimming is very different: looking more closely to it, in a sense female swimming seems "alien" to me, is playing a very different game.)

I am not that tall (1m88), but often female swimmers are rather short, that will be another difference. And, of course, strength.

By the way, hopefully the swim-type system will get an overhaul at some point. "Swinger" and "overglider" seem more appropriate to me, but already "smooth" is rather unspecific, but so well, "kick-tastic", don't know such persons --- however, "Arnie" and "bambino" might be funny at first sight, but I think they are more of a hindrance than that they help. The kind of "arnie-bambino" combination seems not so rare for a male (a good athletic background, but perhaps a bit older, and very anxious in the water), but tell to such a person "you are a mixture of Arnie and bambino", that just sounds ridiculous. I have such a friend, and due to those ridiculous names I couldn't get him to become interested in SwimmSmooth (can't be serious). Further differentation seems needed. And if additionally to such nick-names every type would have a functional name (like "swinger" and "overglider"), that would be helpful (so that the name is meaningful in itself; those who like something like "Arnie" can use it, but the rest can use something different).

SJ said...

Hi Paul,

How come you don't mention 4 beat kick?

Without giving it much thought myself as to the science behind it, logic would say it would be a good compromise between 2 and 6, or is this not the case?
Thanks!

Adam Young said...

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you all, it’s been the Rottnest Channel swim in Perth over the weekend and the UK team have been running Triathlon England courses - busy times!

Hi Richard, how do you know your timing is wrong? During a six beat kick, the kicks happen so rapidly it’s very hard to tell as the swimmer whether it’s causing a problem in driving your rotation or not. It’s easy to get hung-up on kick timing when the issue is actually elsewhere in the stroke (for instance alignment, over-gliding effecting arm timing or catch technique) - normally if the kick doesn’t feel right it’s actually to do with the arm stroke effecting your timing. Any video of your stroke?

Hi Anonymous1 - thanks!

Hi Micaela, OK great! Keep working on all aspect of your stroke (as mentioned in the post) and the two beat should naturally start to come.

Hi Philippe, that’s a good question. It’s really tricky to give a good guideline because it also depends on things like your flexibility, alignment, catch technique and fitness levels too. Someone more sinky can use a 2 beat kick if they’re have great technique and are swimming quickly, whereas they would struggle with poor technique and poor fitness. Do you know what your body position is like at the moment (underwater video?) - if it’s at all down then don’t even think about a 2 beat kick at this point…

Hi MarkkuS, it’s pretty much just a matter or fluttering lightly with the kick, big toes brushing past each other. More tips here: http://www.swimsmooth.com/kick

Hi Mats, as with Richard, if you feel your kick timing is off, my feeling is that the problem really lies elsewhere in your stroke which is inhibiting it clicking into place… Great stuff with the 1 hour IM swim target! Yes there are a few cross-breeds out there when people are trying to consciously work on specific things in their stroke. Would you say you have come more from an Arnie style originally?

Hi Pete, as with the guys above (also suspect they are mild overgliders), work on removing any deadspots in your rhythm by keeping your stroke flowing and continuous. Then you should find the 6 beat starts to flow too. Sometimes simply thinking about keeping your legs nice and straight and brushing the big toes as they pass with an even rhythm can really help bring your whole stroke technique together.

Hi Lukas, yes so we didn’t mention a 4 beat kick in the post but yes it does exist. Really it is a 6 beat kick with 2 kicks missing from the cycle. The kicking pattern can change whilst swimming and the swimmer may move between 4 and 6 beats depending on how fast they’re swimming (fast normally going to 6 beats).

Hi Oliver, 80 SPM plus yes, although we’d probably go a little lower, perhaps 70 SPM or higher depending on the height of the swimmer. Sounds like you’re feeling the benefits of a 6-beat kick too, good work. As you’ve found, we don’t really like using kick boards either, much better to kick in a torpedo type position on the front of the back which brings the front end down and the legs up.

Hi Paul, you could well be settling into a 4 beat kick there. Nothing wrong with that as long as the rest of your stroke is holding together nicely. What sort of speed are you swimming?

Adam Young said...

Hi Jean Marc, we try and show 50% men and 50% women - although for sure it seems to be the men who get more frustrated with swimming! Yes there are female Arnies out there, we call them Arnettes! You can see one on the Arnie profile page: http://www.swimtypes.com/arnie.html

Generally the Swim Type issues are shared for both sexes. So both male and female Arnies and Bambinos struggle with body position. The hard thing about body position is that there are numerous parts of the stroke that need improving to bring someone’s legs up. Here’s a quick (but not exhaustive) list:

Holding the breath underwater
Lifting the head to breathe
Pressing down on the water during the catch
Kicking from the knee
Poor flexibility (particularly hip flexors and ankles)
Twisting through the core
Scissor kicks

I think it’s easy for men to look at women’s strokes and say it’s easy for them because they’re more buoyant but nearly always the women they’re looking at just have better stroke technique in the areas I listed above. Unfortunately there’s no silver-bullet to body position, you have to work on several areas of the stroke to help bring the legs up. A good place to start is exhalation technique and leg kick technique (definitely light 6 beat kick with good technique).

Hi Emliy, you’re welcome thanks!

Hi Oliver again, obviously you can read my reply to Jean Marc above. Reference you find it more relevant to watch men than women then that’s great - definitely seek out the clips of men’s strokes then.

I’m sorry if the Swim Type system isn’t for you but that’s just fine with us - don’t use it if you don’t find it useful! :)

Hi SJ, I briefly mentioned the 4 beat kick above in my reply to Lukas. To our mind a 4 beat kick is a 6 beat kick with 2 of the beats missing. Fundamentally it’s the same style of kicking whereas a 2 beat kick switches between those two positions. Yes it can be a nice compromise for those with reasonably body position and often those who are quite tall. We recommend using a 6 beat kick as a starting point and if it falls away naturally to 4 beat and your body position is still good then that’s fine with us!

Cheers all!

Adam Young
Swim Smooth

Richard Aukland said...

Cheers Adam for the reply

I know my timing is wrong because I kind of fell my right kick as my right hand stretches forward - it seems like a natural stretch.
But anyway, I'm going to take your advice and for now work on the rest of my stroke some more in the areas you suggest above.

Thanks !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Richard

jihemd said...

Hi Adam thx very much for the tips


Holding the breath underwater : I blow with my mouth cause I need

a nose clip

Lifting the head to breathe : I work on bilateral breathing, on my

right I lift too much.

Pressing down on the water during the catch : on my previous video

at the pool there is no pressing down.

Kicking from the knee : I have a rather poor kick but I work on it

Poor flexibility (particularly hip flexors and ankles) : I am 54

years old with no sport background except cycling !

Thus I suffer from poor joint flexibility :
Concerning my ankles, I daily sit on my heels in the seiza position.
Concerning my hips I am searching for dry land exercise.


Twisting through the core & Scissor kicks : to be seen on my next

video at the pool.

No more ideas Adam ?

I must thanks all of you at swimsmooth, for showing me that even a grown up can learn a decent freestyle!

Jean Marc from France


P.S : I would still have much preferred that the only beginner swimmer in the DVD 'Catch Masterclass' is male ...

Luke said...

hi adam and paul!!

one very very important question that might have to do with the kick:

I seem to be a 100% diesel with my 200m splits barely faster than the 400m times. also when in a triathlon swim I pretty much CAN'T go out too fast because I just can't ;-) still, when swimming all out in the race, I don't feel extraordinary fatigue or slowing down as long as I'm in the water BUT as soon as I get out of the water I feel like DEAD and my bike suffers a lot (by the time I hit T2 I seem to be recovered and the run works again).
looking at the 3 disciplines in isolation, cycling is actually my strength. not so after swimming whats very very frustrating.
I use a 4 beat kick but actually don't kick a lot anyway (on purpose to safe the legs).

Any idea why the swim kills my bike that much (it's pathetic...FTP of ~320watts, OD bike leg <240 watts)?

I'd be very very greatfull for any hint!!! Thanks, Luke

PS: I started swimming/triathlon 2,5 years ago so I'm kind of a newbie; 2013 best performances 21min OD swims

Annie Oberlin-Harris said...

Hi Luke,

I wonder whether you might actually be kicking more than you perceive yourself to be? Often what we think we're doing and what we really are doing under the water are two very different things! Have you ever had a video analysis? You may find you're a little Kicktastic- see the links above!

Also, do you do much brick training swim-bike? That would really help your training. Hope that helps!

Luke said...

yes I had a video analysis and really don't kick. in the pool at least. I thought that maybe - in the heat of the battle during a race start - that I change that habit...could that be? subconsciously?

well often swim-bike bricks are hard to do structurally but last summer we started doing mini-tris several tims (20min ALL OUT race simulations 3 times in a row :-) )

it's funny because what I found out during these minitris was: at the first one I was fresh and could swim with the fastest swimmers but my bike&run suffered; at the second and third minitri I was already tired, swam 30seconds slower but made up that time (actually more than that) during the bike&run... so maybe I just have to hold back on the swim?!